Travel Writing In Retrospect: The Grand Bazaar

Hugh Coates

Nowadays, not alot of travel literature is based on memories as far back as mine. While my own stories may lack the veracity of someone like Frank Gardner’s book ‘Far Horizons’, as I write this 11 years on, I hope that you will still find them full of regalement and adventure.

At the age of 9, I lived in a small village in Turkey called Zekeriyaköy. It was a village overidden with the villas of Turkey’s affluent but devoid of the excitement and adventure to conjure the imagination of a young boy. Fortunately though, we lived in close proximity to the vibrant and exciting city of Istanbul. This tale begins in the place which encapsulates all that is good about Istanbul and indeed, the whole of Turkey: a place of all colours, smells and interesting people – the Grand Bazaar.

I was intrigued, being an unusually frugal child, to find out if there was merit in the claim that you couldn’t leave the Bazaar without buying something – I was determined to buck the trend. To be clear, the aforementioned claimer was not suggesting that all those who failed to make a purchase were shepherded into a pen somewhere and forced to buy a meerschaum pipe. They were referring to the general allure of the place, and they were not wrong. There truly is something there for everyone, whether that is an expertly faked Real Madrid shirt or a pashmina. And even if by some miracle nothing catches your eye, you still have to navigate your way through regiments of some of the most persuasive people I’ve ever encountered. Seriously though Sir Alan Sugar/Donald Trump, if you want a handy apprentice, look no further than the Grand Bazaar – those guys could sell Welsh wine to a Frenchman.

It was within the Grand Bazaar that I encountered one the more peculiar idiosyncrasies of the Turkish people. Somebody had brushed my hair with their hand as I walked down one of the many covered streets, I had noticed it but not made anything of it. The Grand Bazaar is a busy place after all, a bit of hair contact was perhaps inevitable, maybe? As the day wore on, I became acutely aware that what I had originally taken to be an accidental brushing was in fact a concerted effort, on the part of what seemed to be everyone in the Bazaar, to examine/caress my blonde locks. Flattering as this now seems, at the time this ordeal was hugely stressful. It turned out that my Scandinavian hair shade were something of a novelty to the locals. The pinnacle of my embarrassment arose at the end of the day, when, to my horror, one enterprising Turkish gentlemen approached my father in order to negotiate a suitable price to take me off his hands. The smile on both men’s faces, human rights law as it was, and still is, as well as the fact that the agreed upon currency was to be camels, should have told me that this negotiation was in fact a farce…

You cannot hope to effectively describe the Grand Bazaar in words. Hopefully my experience will have tempted and possibly dissuaded some into visiting one of the most of bizarre….and beautiful places I have ever been fortunate enough to behold.

Please Mind the Gap

Hugh Coates

First things first, I am not a travel-a-phobe.  I have watched through the hands covering my eyes the warzone of the traffic system in Istanbul, where, if you remain within it long enough, you will fall shamelessly at the feet of the nearest diety just to make it all end. However, in spite of these priggish claims to being some sort of EU constrained Phileas Fogg, there is one zone of travel that continues to baffle me. A place where light has been banished, stench is incubated and a some truly remarkable behavior is exhibited. Of course I am talking about England’s national treasure: the London Underground.

The most common observation regarding the Tube is that it is a vacuum of conversation. I don’t know if it is because, for noobs, the crushing stress of getting on the right line renders people incapable of forming words. Or, because nobody else does it the unitiated obediently conform to fit in with the ‘locals’. I do it for the latter by the way. It is almost as if Boris is patrolling the carriages of the London underground in an invisibility cloak threatening anyone who breaks this sacred silence. Was the tube a place of friendly conversation in the past, or has it been like this since its conception? Do Londoners start talking when tourists are off the train just to mess with outsiders? My only reasonable explanation is that one day someone was cheerfully telling a ‘your mum’ joke to the whole carraige and went too far, in doing so, creating such an uncomfortable silence that it has been passed down to every generation of tube users ever since.

26tube-531

Every time I use the tube there is always a select group of people, so intent on getting on the carraige, that they show absolutely no regard for their own life – much to my amusement/horror. I personally am not a risk taker. When I was last on the tube my timing was impeccable, with time on my hands I nonchalantly strolled through the doors with such a drippingly smug look on my face, quite frankly I am surprised nobody remedied it with a slap. Anyway, I was proudly sitting in a seat, doing my post-boarding checks: correct line, yes.  Correct direction, yes. Luggage in a vice like grip between my legs, check. The doors were about to close, people braced themselves and everyone powered down into silent mode. Suddenly.  Out of nowhere, some madwomen clearly intent on joining us came charging across the platform. A look steely determination mixed with uncertainty etched across her increasingly reddening face. Stimulated by this drama, tube passengers around me snapped out of standby mode. The doors began to close. Surely not we all thought. The carriage was unified in excitement. Would she be  cruelly sliced in half by the tube doors like some unfortunate Bond villain, or would she make it? To this day I cannot work out how this women made it. I felt a cheer was in order and then I remembered where I was.

Would she be cruelly sliced in half like some unfortunate Bond villain, or would she make it?

This unique combination of  human fortitude and an impatient door closing system makes for ready entertainment. However, this is all I enjoy about the whole experience. My biggest gripe is with myself. I like many of the unenlightened aspire to have the wisdom of the oyster card bearing residents of London – or at least appear to. This pathetic yearning for acceptance often comes at the cost of a care-free trip across London. As far as I am aware I do not have a disorder, the level of preparation and route planning prior to any Tube based journey would suggest otherwise. This dependence on pre-planning comes a cropper with even the most minor alteration to my journey. A reasonable person would ask for help perhaps? Well no actually, for the wannabe Tube pros, as soon as you descend into the caverns of the underground you lose any sort of rational thinking. I am reasonably confident that if there was to be an apocalyptic event affecting the Tube, whereby the only means of escape was to catch an alternative line to safety, that I would stand paralyzed with fear yet resolutely pig-headed as everyone around me calmly walked off to some unknown platform. I would probably continue to do this until the first Zombie / 2012-esque ball of lava devoured me.

 

Hugh Rants : The Elusive Pound

Hugh Coates

I did a fair amount of travel on the train this weekend, £45 worth to precise. This was not including the necessary refreshment stops at St Pancras’ overpriced, head-up-own-backside cafes where if a man wants to get a bacon butty he has more chance of out running the fast train to Ashford International than he does of obtaining such a mundane snack. Am I an irritable traveler? Maybe.

We all know somebody that lives out in the sticks and in being so to remain within the social loop of his friends he must hike far and wide on the magnificence that is British public transport, as his financial impotence has denied him access to that very ordinary machine known as a car. That sorry desperate oaf is me. Yes, living in the the blissful peace of Norfolk is marvelous in the latter stages of your life, but to a young man like myself it is merely an unnervingly flat prison locked in by rat infested water ways, whereby the only means of escape are the First buses which are about as punctual as the Americans arrival to the war (apologies for the use of that already haggared metaphor).

This being considered, a 16-25 railcard seemed to be as worthy investment as ever. As a student ‘worthy’ investments are a rarity I include in this bracket of questionable investments the £9,000 a year tuition fees – zing. In the most part, this little orange card with my rather immature face haphazardly stuck onto it, has saved me a fair amount of money. Well done the person who created this card.

But then again, even the mighty Roman empire had to come to an end eventually, and like Hannibal when he tried to destroy Rome, Greater Anglia trains too tried to destroy a good thing. In what still baffles me while I write this snottogram, are an astounding sequence of events occurring in the space of about 15 minutes. In reading the following account you may think many things of me as a person, I can guess what a few of these may be: petty, deluded, lazy or just really a bit of an imbecile. I hope you will lose these thoughts by the end of this…

As I boarded the luxurious, sun seeking pleasure mobile that is the Greater Anglia train to Great Yarmouth, realizing that time was not on my side, I decided to buy a ticket on the train. This was certainly a reasonable aspiration of any train user within the last 20 years where card payments and more flexible ticket inspectors have come to the fore. Not thinking anything of it, when the ticket inspector came along, I reached for the trusty debit, the card having been inserted for it then to be unceremoniously rejected, much to my dismay. So much so, that a whimpering comment escaped my mouth. I informed the fair inspector that there was definitely money to be taken off of me as I had not long been paid. However, this comment was ignored, along with many pleas I was to make later on. Instead, this beacon of common sense came to the conclusion that despite me reaching for my card to pay the fare initially, that I must have just been trying to waste his time and that secretly I had the required amount of cash stashed away somewhere in my fairly light feeling wallet. However, much to my relief, I had the correct change for a railcard priced ticket. And then it dawned on me what the man had said to me before he took my card  ‘railcards are not ‘valid’ when using them on the train from Norwich.’ Bummer.

Not only had I been denied the price that was rightfully mine, I was now, according to the-inspector-that-makes-up-his-own-fares, £1 short. He duly went off to prey on other travelers promising to ‘come back later’. Unfortunately, I have been cursed with a rather vivid and imaginative mind, one which conjured a host of expectations of what to expect when he returned. They ranged from a fare settled by a wrestling match to a good old fashioned fine of something well over what my whole weekend of travel had cost me. He returned, the only progress I had made was in finding a fairly apologetic looking 2 pence coin, no good at all. My last resort: appeal to the public for help. Surely there was a human being on this train that would donate this fairly embarrassed looking young-adult/child a pound? My first attempt to attract some charity was to to ask the ticket inspector to repeatedly tell me the amount that I owed him and then repeat how much I had available – no response. This dead-end led me onto the no-shame approach of loudly announcing ‘oh dear, I’m only a pound short if only I could find one’. No prizes for guessing that this appeal to the public met with similar levels of success. My faith in humanity severely dented, I accepted my 21 day unpaid fare notice and skulked off the train.

From this experience I can say two things. Firstly, karma, where were you? I helped a blind person off the lift the other day. Secondly, humanity, and in particular Nor-folk, I hope you chose you property based on its elevation above sea level as it is due to rain this weekend and it would be terrible if you got a bit of flooding. You let me down.